Blessed Are the Peacemakers: The Life of Jacob Toukhy

Jacob Toukhy serving with the Magen David Adom (courtesy)

The conflicts of the Middle East overwhelm us. The tragedy seems nearly biblical.

This weekend, Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles towards Israel with at least nine countries involved in the confrontation.

All of Gaza is facing famine, massive devastation throughout the enclave, with well over 30,000 Palestinians killed.

Hamas is still holding 134 hostages in Gaza. Israelis have the outrage of October 7th seared on their collective consciousness – and they will for years to come.

Terror, fear, war, famine, death – it is all too much.

Amid this despair, there was one underreported story which deserves attention. A quiet, gentle, compassionate man, Jacob Toukhy, was killed in Jaffa on Saturday. Jacob, an Arab Muslim, was a volunteer with Magen David Adom, the Israeli ambulance service, and was wearing his uniform when he arrived at the scene of a car accident to treat an injured person lying on the road. An off-duty police officer initiated an argument with Jacob over a parking space, attacked and then shot him multiple times. A witness at the scene said the officer smelled of alcohol. Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai described Jacob Toukhy as a well-known and well-respected Jaffa resident, a social activist who volunteered in Magen David Adom for many years.

On Saturday, the world lost a good soul.

Jacob worked for 21 years at the U.S. embassy for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Mission to the West Bank and Gaza (USAID). He started out in the Mission as a driver, transferred to become an office secretary and then rose in the ranks to manage some of the most meaningful, high performing people to people activities in the region. We served at USAID together for more than a decade. During that time, Jacob briefed senior government officials, senators, business leaders, and the media – but also was accountable for project funds, staff, and operations to drive impact to advance our mission’s work to build a more hopeful future.

For instance, Jacob helped Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians find common ground for shared water resources, including restoring the Jordan river, to practical solutions for treating wastewater. Jacob also managed many of the mission’s youth programs, including Peace Players and Hapoel Katamon, where Arab and Jewish young people learned about the other through sports and teamwork.

At the height of the Syrian war with millions displaced, Jacob took leave from the mission and traveled to the Greek Island of Lesbos where he helped resettle refugees seeking shelter from violence and conflict. That was his holiday.

For much of his life, Jacob served. He helped lead the cross-border peace building portfolio at USAID, he cared for sick and injured Israelis with the MDA, and he lent a welcoming hand to those fleeing war. Through it all, he was the father to two beautiful daughters. He lived with humility, love, and integrity.

The war, violence, and terror which engulfs the Middle East today does seem biblical in its tragedy. Yet, through this tragedy, Jacob, the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham taught all of us another biblical lesson: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

About the Author
R. David Harden (@Dave_Harden) is a former assistant administrator at USAID’s bureau for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance; a former USAID mission director to the West Bank and Gaza; and a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s special envoy for Middle East peace.
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